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Yesterday morning I was sent to work at the canteen in the Royal Infirmary. Arriving at the canteen, I was pleased to see my friend Renata waving at me from the tills. When I got over to the tills, however, Renata, a new worker who was called Nigel, and the manager Scott were in the middle of a heated conference on how to make a skinny mocha-latte. There is a list of these stupid items on the menu, but nobody knows how to make them.

Renata was berating the others. “You should foam the milk first, and then dust with chocolate, and then add the espresso shot last.”

Nigel was certain that Renata was wrong. “The milk is added last. That’s what I was taught in the Navy.”

The customer watched unhappily from behind the counter. The masterpiece over which these three “barristas” were deliberating had long grown cold.

It was eventually decided that Renata offered the best interpretation of a mocha latte, but Nigel was very offended that his suggestions had been discarded and he flounced away, muttering to himself.

“Who is your friend?” I asked Renata. “He’s very old to be working here. And he was in the Navy?”

“He has worked on an oil rig,” Scott scoffed. “And in the Navy too.”

“Is he gay?” Renata asked me tentatively.

“I think that he’s about the most gayest person I have ever seen.”

Scott sent me to supervise the dishwasher, where there was anarchy. The agency had posted several of the wrong grade of workers to the canteen, with the result that office temps were now washing dishes. Some of them were in tears.

“Come on!” I barked, clapping my hands. “If you keep going at that rate, it will be Christmas by the time you finish. Get those fat little arms moving!”

“I’m an accountant!” the cleaner wailed. She had been scrubbing at a single dirty plate for several minutes.

“And you!” I snapped at a cleaner hovering around the doorway. “We sent you to clean the toilets over half an hour ago.”

“I do not clean toilets,” the cleaner asserted boldly. She indeed looked like she had never cleaned a toilet in her life. I tried a more diplomatic tack.

“Come on, why not have a go at cleaning a toilet? It will be a new experience, something to add to your C.V.”

The woman remained adamant. “I do not clean toilets… I have not been trained,” she added, as if thinking it gracious to provide me with an explanation.

“It’s very easy…” I reassured her. “Nobody has ever died cleaning a toilet. You put on the gloves and then approach the toilet holding the toilet brush… hey, where are you going?”

But the woman was stalking off. I turned to the demoralised dishwasher team. “We’re a man down… That means everybody will now have to work twice as fast!”

I returned to the tills. “I am surrounded by idiots!” I declared. “I look over here – idiots! I look over there – idiots! And I look at you, Renata, and what do I see but a great, big idiot!”

Renata punched me on the arm.

We were later put on the tills together, whilst Nigel was on his break and Scott was trying to motivate the dishwasher. Renata was itching to confide in me.

“He’s not gay. But I want to tell you something, something very bad.”

“Ah, this sounds exciting.”

“No it’s very bad. We were in the stock cupboard earlier, and he got very close to me and he said that if I went back to his mother’s house with him tonight then he would show me heaven, take me to heaven. And I said, no I don’t want to, I don’t like it. But he wouldn’t stop staring at me – I mean, staring right into my face – and I said no I don’t want to, just leave me alone. But he kept staring at me, without blinking…”

“And did he touch you? I mean, in personal places…”

Renata frowned. “No, he didn’t.”

“I still think that he’s gay,” I said.

“I’m going to tell Scott,” Renata resolved.

I was annoyed by this. “That’s not a very nice thing to do. You’ll get Nigel into trouble.”

Renata snorted with exasperation. “He’s dangerous, Biggy.”

I did not know Nigel and I have never spoken with him, but I immediately felt on his side. It is strange, but whenever I see a news story about a rapist or a paedophile, I always find myself instinctively sympathising with the monster and hoping that things turn out slightly easier for him. I was now following Renata, trying to dissuade her from toppling Nigel.

“You’ve given him your opinion. I’m sure he will understand that no means no.”

“He’s dangerous, Biggy. I thought that you would support me.”

“Of course I do. But I still think that you’re being silly.”

“I want you to be a witness.”

“But I didn’t see anything.”

“Say that you saw him staring at me.”

“Renata, this is very bad.”

“He’s dangerous, Biggy.”

I refused to be a witness and so I lost Renata’s confidence. I gather, however, that Renata complained to Scott and that Nigel was subsequently asked to leave. I went into the dishwasher and informed the team that, “We’re another man down… That means everybody will now have to work twice as fast!”

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